Jolly difficult, it is, trying to sleep when you’ve got a head like a Lizzie falling into a spin every time your eyes slip shut in the dark of your room, and always just as you're starting to think that maybe, maybe this'll be the night you wake up before you hit the ground. You know it: You can just feel your hindbrain bottoming out as the dreams fizzle at the edges, and then suddenly your own body is jerking you violently from the wreckage of unconsciousness, gulping down mouthful after mouthful of reality, pulling uselessly at the shrapnel stuck inside your frantic heart. You know this. Maddie Brodatt knows this, knows it as well as she’s ever known anything that matters, because Maddie Brodatt is a plane crash. She is a catastrophic fuel leak at three thousand feet. She is a Tiger Moth plummeting into the Ardennes, a one-woman detonation pinned against the flannel sheets of her RAF-issue cot with every hair on her head screaming against the glassy stillness of the night, that it would have the sheer honking nerve to be so soft and sleepy-smooth when she herself is straining at the seams, ready to burst.
It’s best, she’s found, to move. To just get up and do something with the night, alphabetize her letters backwards and forwards, fold all her knickers twice, tie and re-tie her shoes, keep her body in constant fretful motion so the thread of her thoughts doesn’t careen into the rocky blue fist of the North Sea. Gives the jitters an exit point, as it were.
Tonight, just before the black hush of midnight unfurls over the stars, Maddie pulls out her desk chair and flicks on the lamp, rests her slim ballpoint along the brand new callous of her middle finger. There are things bouncing around in her skull tonight, important things, all of them itching at her bones to be put to the permanence of language. Things Julie didn’t tell. Things that are begging, whimpering, clamoring to be let out of her.
From her tiny satchel at the corner, she unravels the old bundle of misshapen recipe cards and symphonies no one plays anymore to find her spot, right in the margins of boeuf à la Bourguignonne. Julie wouldn’t take apart her whole heart for them, wouldn’t expose the dark red beauty of it to dissection and dismemberment, but Maddie, with nothing left but the thin curl of Julie’s handwriting and all these things she’s hoarded between her ears, is going to take her pen tonight and tell it to the Vichyssoise and gratin dauphinois, she is. She’s going to tell Schnabel exactly what’s what, right there where Julie couldn’t do it, scratched between the notes of 3 Fantasiestücke.
Maddie has this big blooming secret that’s not, in fact, a big blooming secret the way she likes to think: She's got two left feet.
No, no, but she is too kind—Maddie has a rhinoceros’ left feet, both of them, a rhinoceros stomping on hot coals in a desperate and ill-conceived attempt to be all jangly and loose-limbed like the other young rhinos. This means, in general, that Maddie doesn’t do much dancing when Saturdays roll around at RAF Maidsend, even though she thinks she might like to; or, at least, she’d like to do it the way Julie does it—all those fluid twists and turns, the secret graceful curve of her neck to her shoulders as she weaves herself about, more leading than following the men who watch her like they’re going to find their heart’s desire and a pot of gold flowing in the lazy sway of her hips. She wonders sometimes—does it now, as she’s taking in a chill breath of September air from the thick shadows made by the brick and mortar—what it must be like, to be Julie Beaufort-Stuart, to have that sort of command over her own body. Over other people.
Even here, alone with none but the scythe moon and her own broad shoulders as her partner, she can’t quite fall into step with herself or with the empty space around her hips and shoulders, certainly not to the dimmed, crackly tune of old Marlene Dietrich humming through the walls. Mumble mumble something German Ich bin misstep, misstep, misstep. Bugger.
“Oh, that’s dreadful,” says the subject of her not-quite-envy, cigarette lit and teetering dangerously on the edge of her wine-red lip. Maddie doesn’t pout. Doesn’t. “See, you’re thinking. You’re thinking very loudly, I mean, I could just hear you in there! So. You stop that clatter this instant, Maddie Brodatt.”
“Maybe I’m inventing my own dance,” she says, leaning back against the wall and watching the moon around a stray sliver of Julie’s hair, fallen from its low chignon and winding between the distant stars. “I’ll teach everyone but you, and then won’t you look a twat next Saturday night.”
“Or we could just do our own. Your squirrely legs, my high-bred ballroom training—how about it?”
“Or we could not.”
Julie, beautiful as anything and daft as the day she was born, takes a drag of her cigarette (apparently it is not only for decoration this time) and grabs both Maddie’s hands, pulling her off the wall and into the comfort of a paler, warmer shadow, where Dietrich’s rolling staccato can only just reach them. “You faithless loon,” she mutters, settling her hands around Maddie’s hips in a way that makes her heartbeat snag in her chest, “everyone can dance. I can do it, you can do it, they can do it, and now we are going to do it, and that’s just that, old chap.”
“But I can’t—”
“Oh, no,” says Julie, her eyes biting the rest of that sentence right out of Maddie’s mouth. “Everyone can. It’s a law, you know, didn't I just say so? They can’t figure out how to move it through Parliament. And you’re going to. Right now.”
So, since it’s A Law, Or Something, Maddie ghosts her hands over Julie’s hips with all the awkwardness of thorny young things and promptly knees her in the thigh the moment she takes her first wobbly step to the tune of something slow and slurred, her face inexplicably hot and warping quickly into the shape of I-Told-You-So.
“Look here, silly knees,” says Julie, “let me lead. You just follow, and put your hands—” she slips Maddie’s fingers up to her narrow shoulders and doesn’t let go until she loops her arms around them, “—right here. And you keep them there, Pilot.”
Easy-peasy, after that, with Julie’s hands and eyes on her. Just them, moving in and out of time, together.
If there’s truly one moment, one single speck of sand in the sea she could pluck up and say with all the certainty of hindsight was the moment she felt that strange curled-in place deep inside her begin to unravel, it would doubtlessly be this: Her arms around Julie’s shoulders and the sticky-sweet aftertaste of tobacco on the air, Marlene Dietrich muttering something unintelligible while the moon gets in their eyes, wondering if Julie can feel her heart beating through her skin the way Maddie is straining, yearning with every part of her to feel Julie’s.
She thinks, with the bitter wisdom brought on by time, that Julie always knew—at least, before Maddie knew it herself. Julie usually did.
“This is nice,” murmurs Julie, somehow so much closer than she seemed five minutes ago. Maddie can feel every shift of her body and the answer of her own, pulled towards it by some gentle, whispered force she cannot quite name, action and reaction dragging them closer, closer. She moves her hips just for the feel of Julie’s hands moving with them, not even caring how ridiculous her beastly feet make her here, where it’s only them and them alone in their own patch of cozy nighttime fog.
“It’s nice,” she echoes, and Julie, smaller and slighter and leading her across the shadows like she’s been doing it all her life, grins honey-slow and tugs her even closer by the hips.
“Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß,” Julie sings near her shoulder, off-key and somehow better for it, “auf Liebe eingestellt. You know what that means?”
“You know I don’t know what that means.”
“From head to toe, I’m ready for love,” answers Julie, humming, swaying with the lull of the words as if she’s always known them. Maddie flows with her, brushes her knuckles against that one soft spill of hair at her collarbone and she's dizzy, suddenly, with the thrill of it—the stars, this closeness. “Soppy, isn’t it?”
“Just rotten,” says Maddie, staring at her lips and feeling the intake of breath, Julie’s or her own, she isn’t sure. “Awful.”
Probably the music has stopped by now, but Maddie hasn’t been hearing it for a while anyway, tangled as the they are in the cool sweetness of their own shadows, the two of them shifting together and tying themselves into strange knots to the tune of off-kilter heartbeats. It’s funny, sometimes, the shapes gravity makes of you.
It’s a little like fishing. Two in the morning, just back from a flight and all keyed-up, and she’ll sit with her favorite pen wobbling between her fingers as she casts her hook out behind her eyes and waits to spear a memory right between the teeth. Maddie hoists them out and lets them play through, private and condensed, pinned down like moths in wet ink where Julie’s own have trailed off in starved, faded recollection, waiting for her to feed them.
She watches them thrive there in the blank yellow-white spaces, these precious blue strings given shape and form with her own fingers until they settle over the rows of Dr. Linnauer’s prescription sheets, solid and precious as living things sinking their shimmering scales into the paper.
Maddie thinks she could fill up novels like this. Whole hardback volumes with these things loosed from her own body. Once she’s caught one, she’s up all night, spilling ink like blood welling up in a wound.
“You’re going to write me,” says Julie, and it’s not a question, more a demand or a statement of a simple fact as plain as the mud caked on Maddie’s boots, except— “You will, right?”
“Of course I’m going to write you, you nutter.” Maddie frowns over her turkey and tomato, unsure where this sudden off-footedness has come from and unsure, too, how to walk it out or if she even wants to. It’s awkward in a way that makes her heart stutter in her chest, which is actually very pleasant in a fluttery, warm-cheeked sort of way once you’ve ascertained that you’re not coming down with something horribly lethal. Julie, about to go off for some Super Special Secret Training Or Whatever, wants to make sure Maddie will be writing her while she's off the radar, which makes Maddie want to kick her for being so absolutely loony and plant a kiss right on her mouth, for being so absolutely loony.
Julie, for her part, seems to regain her composure as quickly as she lost it, twirling a bit of hair back behind her ear and smiling midway through her bruised apple. “I’ll have to edit out most of my professional exploits, of course,” she says, nodding thoughtfully, her lips quirked off to one side like a woman with a secret, which—well. “I’m sure you can fill in the blanks. Reach into that gutter and wring it out for all it’s worth.”
“Oh, you’re such a prude sometimes. Here—if you like, you can blank out big chunks of yours, too. We can keep each other warm and lively on our darkest, coldest nights. Eh, old girl? Eh, eh?”
“You’re vile,” says Maddie, her suntanned face flushing a deeper shade of tomato than even her sandwich tomato manages to be and thrilled, secretly, joyously, by the quickening of her heart against her ribs, thrumming madly outward through her limbs. “You’re vile and you’re a complete lunatic, you’re one noodle short of mental. Why would I blank anything out?”
Julie laughs so hard she snorts, and they’re just starting to get some odd looks from the rest of the canteen when she straightens up and rests her chin in her hand, ballet-pink nails curled against her bottom lip as she watches Maddie from across the table. Maybe they are both going insane, she thinks. Maybe this is what it feels like to drop all your marbles down the drain with someone who’s already lost a good chunk of hers and loses more still with every shampoo. Maddie feels giddy, half-drunk every time they stumble into this strange car crash of laughter and awkward angles, and Julie, her eyes bluer than an autumn sky and twice as bright, is the greatest head-rush she’s ever known: better than flying, better than wine, better than the rosy slip of the sun below the Pennines on the longest summer nights.
She’s not serrated at the edges like Julie and she’s not always fluent in the language of subtlety and grace, but Maddie knows herself, the ins and outs and in-betweens, knows the cartography of those dark, creased places in her hands and her heart that Julie is walking all over. There’s nowhere she can’t navigate, given time and the proper equipment, and Julie’s foot tapping softly against her ankle under the table is like a barrel full of black market fuel in her Silent Superb: This is where she’s going. This is where they’re going, both of them, flying no path but their own.
“Write me filth,” says Julie, and Maddie—well, Maddie’s never been a writer, but wherever in the wide open world Julie may be, she’s laughing Maddie’s favorite undignified bark-laugh and she’s laughing loud, and that counts for everything.
Gradually beat the sugar into the egg yolks until the mixture reaches a thick, smooth consistency. Add grated orange rind, orange juice, and vanilla extract, then
She’s started blotting out the print in places where Julie’s poured huge gobs of herself onto the paper so it doesn’t get quite so confusing, because there is so much, so much, and Maddie’s tight-strung muscles and bones will not be still until she’s wrenched this from them too, given it over to the finality of words the way she knows Julie would have done in her place. Warmth flows from her fingers and into her pen; this, this wants to be told.
Night flight always floods her with it, the drop of the moon yellow as old parchment and her Lysander so close to the glittering stars, and—oh, oh, but this was always her favorite; her hand can’t get it out fast enough and it gets in her eyes instead, blurring her vision and clenching heavy claws around her throat as she fills page after page like jars full to the brim, watching the letters dissolve and sift into Julie’s, blinking the ghosts out of her sight.
Way up above Dartmoor, the moon overflowing into the oil-black sky and drowning out the stars, and Maddie Brodatt knows exactly who her Very Secret Passenger She Is Definitely Not Supposed To Be Conversing With happens to be, and whatever altitude she previously deemed her best, her favorite, the best bloody time of her young and surprisingly eventful life has just been blasted to rubble because Julie Beaufort-Stuart has a hand on her shoulder and she’s been reciting Burns in that outrageous accent for at least half an hour; Maddie, her hands twisting the yoke and her nose full of night air, is almost, almost certain that she could bottle up this whole moment—the smooth roar of the Lysander, the moon between her fingers, Julie’s voice folding reckless and rough into the shell of her ear—and live in it forever.
“I’ve missed you loads lately, you know,” says Maddie, reaching up to squeeze her hand for a moment while they watch the moonlight splatter into the River Meavy. Flying has always made her braver, and so has Julie, but together they’re stronger than a gulp of really fantastic, dark whisky, which is the only explanation for why she cocks her head to the side and kisses Julie’s pinkie right where it’s perched on her shoulder. Does it like she meant to do it all along. Doesn’t even think about it.
“You’re getting fresh with me,” Julie laughs, wildly, wonderingly, inching as close as she can without bumping into anything too life-threatening. Maddie catches a faint whisper of honeysuckle on her, so long out of season with the chill flush of autumn already set into the hills. “You’re getting fresh with me while I’ve got a parachute strapped to my back and I didn’t even bring my lipstick and I’ll be gone for a week. Oh, you’ve got awful timing! I’m never going to forgive you.”
“I—well, I mean, it’s a week. Not a year.”
“You say that like it’s not the only thing I’m going to be thinking about the entire time I’m gone. You beast.”
All Maddie’s laughter bubbles over inside her, shakes through her belly and her bones all the way to her toes and warms her cheeks where Julie brushes her knuckles against them, soft as a promise. She’s never been so happy to be this breathless in her life, never been so in love with the strength of her own hands on the yoke and the crush of the night air to fly by, the whole world made into a funny patchwork thing where the moon touches the green and the creeping lowlands underneath. It’s a beauty, this. It’s a blooming beauty.
Somewhere over Ivybridge, Julie starts pointing out the stars: Orion’s belt, Cassiopeia, some big Russian-sounding one Maddie is fairly sure she just made up. “You’re babbling,” she says, elbowing her gently in the ribs. “You’re completely babbling. You’re not nervous.”
“But I am,” says Julie, sliding her fingers around the nape of Maddie’s neck, right between the notches of her spine so she shivers against her palm. “I want to remember this, just the way it looks out there. And I want it to be next week and I want it to be right now.”
“It’ll be here dead quick, you bloody goose.”
“And I’ll feel positively elderly by the time it does.” Julie hitches her straps up tighter, bends some of the stiffness out of her legs while Maddie sinks the Lysander lower, lower, straining for the distant curl of the hills peeking moon-bright against the dark. “I’m going to wither. I’m going to pine. You see what you’ve done to me? I hope you’re pleased with yourself, Maddie Brodatt.”
“Terribly,” says Maddie, twisting the handwheel and watching Julie watching her just from the corner of her eye. “I’ll pine, too, if it makes you feel better.”
“You’re damn right you will,” says Julie. “I’m not doing this alone.”
The pinprick of a village she’ll drop Julie into practically falls off the map, just a few rows of barns and white-sided birdhouses set against the midnight roll of the land, sleeping the contented peachy-warm sleep of tiny things; the war seems far-off here, like maybe these narrow streets sometimes forget. Maddie hardly remembers what that was even like, but with the moon shredding through the glass and Julie’s hand pressing into her arm like she would never leave, it becomes a little less important. The stars, their breathing bodies shoved up so close—that’s what matters.
She expects a “Kiss me, Hardy,” just before the jump, same as always, but the Hardy bit never does come; instead, it’s fingers on her chin and Julie bending down towards her, wide-eyed and so alive, saying, “Kiss me, Maddie.”
So, Maddie does. She’s not sure if the others have qualified as kiss kisses—that is, lingering, romantic, honest-to-goodness, turn-your-insides-to-strawberry-jam, you-cannot-possibly-mistake-my-intent-for-platonic, getting-very-warm-in-very-strange-places kisses—but this one makes Maddie weak in the knees, ankles, shoulders, and thighs while she’s sitting down, so that’s got to mean she’s swimming in the deep end where Julie Beaufort-Stuart is concerned, and who knows when that even happened. Julie’s tongue flicks between her lips, smooth and hard and amazing, and Maddie’s still got her eyes half-shut when Julie pulls away, her face gone soft and sweeter than Maddie thinks she’s ever seen it.
“You wait for me,” says Julie, punctuating it with a kiss to the corner of her mouth, thrillingly, wonderfully hard. Maddie’s never felt so beautiful, not once. “I’ll only be a week and I’d hate to have to kill anyone who tries to muscle in while I’m gone.”
“You wait for me, you daft—you—I can’t even think of what to say, you’ve, you’ve ruined me. I’ll be lucky to fly this devil back with all my bits intact.”
“Shake on it,” says Julie, and they do, with all the solemnity and stiff-jawed urgency of two people who desperately want to shag each other stupid. It’s a deal.
She can still hear Julie laughing when she jumps, hears it in the flood of the moon and the veil of nameless autumn stars as she climbs back into the throat of the night, connecting nonsense constellations just to show her on the flight back home. Theirs, all theirs.
They spiral around the edges of the pages sometimes when her eyes start to droop, those warm, spiderwebbed things that stick to your bones the moment they take form on your tongue. Maddie spins I-love-yous like Julie left her sorry-sorry-sorrys trailing off the last notes of violin concertos, over and over like ritual, these prayers no one will ever hear.
I love you and your stupid Burns and your perfect fingernails and your bad mouth and I love every daft thing you’ve ever done. I love you I love you I love you.
“So—how’s Maddie Beaufort-Stuart suit you? Does that tickle all your dark little fancies?”
“You nutter,” Maddie answers, though fondly. Castle Craig is balm for every bruise on Julie’s body, the mottled purple-yellow fading where Maddie’s got her fingers trailing across her collarbone. “If we could, you know, you’d take mine. Get yourself another hyphen and feel really important, now wouldn’t you.”
“Mm,” says Julie, stretching out the post-nap stiffness on top of Maddie, Human Pillow. “Julie Beaufort-Stuart-Brodatt. That’s a proper title, that is. I like it. Makes me all tingly.”
“We’ll live on the moors,” Julie decides, her lips tickling the thin skin of Maddie’s neck, making her heart trip up rabbit-fast beneath them the way she always does. “You’ll have your own plane and you can drop me off in the Place de la Concorde on weekends and I’ll come back with all the quiche Lorraine and Shalimar your flighty heart can take.”
“I do like you in Shalimar,” says Maddie, and it is a very good thing she’s lying down because that thing Julie is doing is making her so awfully dizzy, teeth on her neck and her fingers slipping up under her shirt, all along the warm skin of her belly.
“I like my Shalimar on you,” says Julie, smoothing her hands out over Maddie’s ribs and leaning up to kiss her in a way that steals every word from her mouth and every last halfway rational thought from her head, nothing more important now than the fierce, frenzied need for more.
Down at her naked waist, Julie straddling her almost-naked hips, nakedly, Maddie has a small, hysterical balloon-burst of panic, not knowing how to move, not knowing where to put her hands, not knowing what to do with her voice or her knees or her flushed pink skin and the strange dark places she’s never had to think about before; Julie, every stitch of clothing long gone and fumbling with Maddie’s plain white bra strap, cocks her head to the side and asks if her breasts are really all that impressive.
“I’ve never—oh, they are, don't be stupid—I mean, I haven’t,” says Maddie, eloquently. “I’m just saying, y’know, don’t laugh if I’m bad at it.”
“It’s all right. You won't be.” Julie’s hair brushes against her thigh when she leans down to kiss the tiny mole at her hip, and Maddie feels the fluttery muscles in her belly twitch and tighten as so many, many things—want, love, joy—shoot straight through her and melt into her blood. “It’s not important, you know, and you're gorgeous. Shagging's hardly difficult.”
“What, you have?”
“Jean Harlow and Josephine Baker came calling while you were away last month,” says Julie, grinning wicked as a knife, the gold-bright sunset turning her skin a powdery rose. “It was absolutely not on, you know, to just leave them with a tacky dancing card, how was I supposed to turn them out on those cold, unforgiving English streets?”
“You lunatic,” Maddie laughs, and laughs, and laughs, and it’s—oh, before long, her hands know just where to go like they’ve been waiting for it all along, as if her body has only wanted to move and be moved with Julie’s, always.
After, under the blanket and halfway to dozing with the quarter moon sprinkling in through the window, Maddie, Human Pillow takes Julie’s hand to her mouth and kisses her open palm and her knuckles, feels the smile pull her lips taut against her shoulder and her heartbeat quicken in answer to Maddie's own, in the new, private thrill of themselves. “When we’re old and grey—”
“I will never go grey, never ever, not even when you do,” says Julie, smiling wider still through her yawn even as Maddie’s fingers flick her forehead in mock-irritation.
“When we’re old and grey, I want to train pilots. Other girls. You can even come along, if you behave yourself.” It’s incredible, truly, the way someone else’s laugh feels when it rumbles, bare, through your own body, the clench-and-pull of their muscles when they breathe you in and out. Maddie knows approximately nothing about the future, doesn’t know where she’ll be going next week, but she does know that she never wants to be without Julie’s nose pressed into her cheek, or her skin sliding against Maddie’s skin, or her eyes, robin’s-egg blue and half-shut, watching her in the dark. “And I want three dogs. And checkered tile. And good, strong coffee every morning.”
“I reckon I can grant those wishes,” says Julie, tipping her face up to kiss Maddie’s chin, “as long as you never let on to anyone ever when I start bleaching my hair.”
“We’ll shake on it in the morning,” Maddie promises, yawning, arms full of sleepy aristocrat and smelling of Julie and smoky-warm Shalimar as she’s dreaming, already, of the forward years, stacked up like building blocks for them to piece together from the hope they grow in the earthy green space between them.
She’s never liked train rides. Too much jostling, whistling, trundling up-down-sideways-beat-you-silly-in-your-seat while you rumble along; it’s nothing like being in the air, where she can see the red earth and the sea all set out before her and she knows, no matter where in the world she is, that’s she’s home. Here, with the unfamiliar, rainy patch of the tarn flattening itself along her window, it’s so easy to feel lost. Alone.
The best of the three ballpoints she's stuck in the pocket of her trousers fits gently between her fingers, bounces on her thumb while she picks out the recipe card for gâteau à l'orange, where there’s still scads of empty space to fill after Julie left off—as if she was hoping, waiting, for Maddie to come along and finish the job.
It makes her smile, the way her thoughts swim to Julie on these pages. The shapes they make even now, as the train tracks muck up her handwriting and she breathes in, breathes the springtime honeysuckle into her lungs like courage.
Maddie’s never been, precisely, a calm person. Never a woman for a crisis, never one for death and misery and the loud, shell-shocked things that peel you down to the marrow of your bones. It wrings her out, pain, fear, chaos. There’s not a damn thing poetic or beautiful or bloody special about agony and suffering and war and the festering red gashes they carve through living things, and if she could write, oh, but if she could, she’d have coarse, coarse words for some of these bloody tweed-wearing fools Julie keeps reading! Literary heads would roll right down the marble steps of nouveau riche mansions and seaside villas the world over, they would. Wartime purple prose would wither and dry up. Hemingway would cry into his unsweetened coffee.
It’s a good thing, then—it’s a great honking blessing—that Julie sat under her brolly that night the air-raid sirens split her ears with their shrill glass scream, because Julie is how she learned to pick up her hollowed-out parts and do. Take her hands and create, make something, find the places it hurts and pour her frenzied blood into anything that has even a brittle hair’s-breadth of a chance of helping. Which sounds a whole lot more noble than it really is; it’s just, if she doesn’t, she’ll burst. Explode. Give out and deflate and sink to the bottom of the world. And then who’s going to crawl through the wreckage and pick up the marbles she’s lost, eh?
When the anti-aircraft guns bite into her Lysander’s tail that night over Angers, Maddie is the opposite of Calm, Cool, and Collected. She is the opposite of A Right Proper Lady. After the initial wave of gasping, panicking, and then the sheer throttling horror that fans out into mad, toe-curling swearing the likes of which has never been heard before or since at such an altitude, she grabs the yoke, swallows down her jackhammering heart, and has a stern, single-minded conversation with herself that mostly involves variations of, “Fly the plane, Maddie, fly the plane, fly the plane, fly the goddamn plane!”
And she flies the plane. She flies the goddamn plane, better than anything.
By the time Julie’s strapped down all the cargo, Maddie’s grip on the handwheel is so tight her fingers are in severe danger of falling out of their sockets at any given moment, bone-white and ready to shatter in the fall. “Breathe, you beautiful fool,” says Julie, fingers in her hair, listening to every ragged-edged breath and matching it with one of her own, as if she would breathe for her if she only could.
“You’re going to have to jump,” she gasps. Both hands grip the yoke again as Julie pulls her hair back; as long as she’s got her hands full, as long as there’s still something to hold onto, Maddie’s all right. As long as she never lets go of these gears, they’re going to be just fine. “I’ll take you back up and—drat, drat, damn you, bloody stupid gunners—it’s just—it’ll be safe, then.”
“Then do it quick so you can get this thing down and I don’t lose my head and all my toes worrying about you!”
“I’ll do my best,” she says, and then, because Julie is looking absolutely murderous without a one-hundred-and-fifty-percent confirmation, “on my honor. All of it you haven’t taken.”
“And those bits, too.”
“Fine! All my honor and the bits you took.”
“That’s better,” says Julie, smacking a very wet kiss to her temple and then another and another to her cheek.
Everything here is unfamiliar, the fields of Western France inky and shadow-thick like blood spilled, the fresh scars on the earth below illuminated by a smattering of lights from the occasional village; Maddie hates it for them, for the whole country, invaded, desecrated by a violence coursing through its balmy air she still doesn’t understand, and she hates also to think of Julie here, hates to think of her pretending to be one of them. Julie is a performance and she always has been: a grenade pin, a shorter-than-regulation-skirt, Eva Seiler, Käthe Habicht, Greta Garbo on one especially memorable night—she can vanish into anything, and no one but Maddie and her mother will see the shards sticking out of her skin, the raw ache underneath.
Maddie, though. She’s not an actress. She’s Kittyhawk, not Käthe Habicht, and she knows exactly what will happen to her if she goes down here, just the same as it’s happened to so very many people like her who are ripped, invisible, into the night. Their houses taken, their bodies burned, their stockings and their mattress stuffing and their baby photographs torn apart as if they were never even there at all, blotted out like the moon behind the clouds. She shivers beneath Julie’s hands. Breathes.
“I’m not getting out of bed for a week,” she says, laughing wildly as Julie’s fingers tangle their way through her hair again. “Not even.”
“Think on me fondly,” says Julie, as breathless as Maddie feels. “It gets cold across the Channel sometimes, so. Keep those thoughts set to boiling, you.”
Three thousand feet, and Maddie knows, knows, they’re not going to get another chance at this no matter how she swings it. “You’d better jump,” she says, steady as she can. “Best do it now, easy as you please. Let’s get it over with.”
Julie’s fingers tighten around her shoulder; hands full, she tells herself, hands full, she just has to keep her hands full and they'll both land on their feet.
“Kiss me, Hardy,” says Julie, and Maddie does, right on the curl of her thumb, tasting of salt-sweet sweat and cotton, but then Julie’s kissing her hard, arms around her waist and fierce as anything till Maddie’s hands shake around the yoke for want of Julie instead—Julie, always, always.
“Hurry,” Maddie whisper-laughs, swallowing the sob that wants to crack out of her throat. “Before it goes any higher, you loony.”
“I’ve got something to say to you,” says Julie, hitching up her straps in the canopy and turning to face her, grinning wild and crooked the way Maddie loves the most. “As fair thou art, my bonie lass, so deep in luve am I—”
“I cannot believe—”
“—And I will luve thee still, my dear, till a’ the seas gang dry,” she finishes, jaw clenched tight, head high, and oh, she trips Maddie’s heart up into a new rhythm right there in the cockpit, the poor old thing stuttering and jump-starting all over again in the hot electric night air they breathe between them. “I love you to my back teeth, just in case you needed confirmation. So you wait for me, Maddie Brodatt.”
“Oh, you’re vile! You’re awful!” Maddie, laughing like mad and half-sobbing with it while she yanks the handwheel to the left, is stuck in a climb over uncharted territory with a wrecked tail chewed up by some fool's gun, and she is soaring. “You’re going to leave me like this, you’re actually going to leave me like this, you beast!”
“Payback,” Julie laughs, high and wild, sticking out her new red manicure. “That was a good one. And now you really owe me, oh, yes you do. Shake on it—come on, Maddie.”
And Maddie signs it all away with a firm grasp of her hand: I love you. Best deal she’s ever made.
“I love you, you daft, daft Scottie,” says Maddie, half-shouts it, exultant and so madly, madly thrilled with the blood heating her cheeks and her nose, with the sting pinching the corners of her eyes. It is the bravest thing she thinks she’s ever done, love. Talk about having your hands full. Talk about having your whole head and all your heart full. “Now get out of here—go, go!”
She watches Julie in the canopy for as long as she can before she jumps, her cut-glass eyes, her hair bound up at the nape of her neck, grinning crazy just for her, just for Maddie—and then the fall, the distant flash of shadow into shadow, the fleshy nylon miracle of her parachute blooming into the night winds until it flickers out like a candle, alive, alive, alive.
And it is easier, easier always, to just keep moving. Best, Maddie thinks, to take the white-hot shocks inside herself and draw them out in a bright gush of ink, grab onto something, walk until her feet take her halfway to Dorset or to her icebox pie; the trouble is, no matter where you run to or what you build, you can’t get away from the teeth in your heart. You can’t claw your way out of your own skin.
Maddie, her feet taking her slowly up the cobbles to Castle Craig, is actually all right with that, now. She’s got Julie singing off-key Marlene Dietrich in her ears and warming her cheeks with Burns’ best; she’s got Julie at three thousand feet and all the stars they named between them, her blood thrumming with the sound of their voices threaded together. Julie moves with her still, in every stray gust of honeysuckle and the fluid slopes of the Avon at dawn, the high scythe moon on the wane, and Maddie loves her. Loves her, always.
When Esmé Beaufort-Stuart leads her to Julie’s old room, the room that was—is still—theirs, Maddie reaches into her satchel and gives her the most precious possession she’s ever called her own: love, all of it, every frantic penstroke and heartsore recollection, born of those glittering golden things they’ve built between them. Truth, bundled up in a nifty rubber band.
Them. Both of them—all of them, dog-eared and tattered, filling up the margins better than anything ever has or will.
In the dark, she rests her head on Julie’s blue flannel sheets and she sleeps, Maddie does, sleeps the whole night through. In her dreams, she is flying over the Pennines as the sun stirs the sky to violet over the heather, the swoop of the plane on the wind pooling low in her belly and the incense-haze of Shalimar twining through the canopy, every star in the sky shimmering like laughter. She flies right over the moon.